Rutgers Strikes Exclusive Deal with Coca-Cola

By Brenda Flanagan

A Coca-Cola ad smartly targets students “under pressure” with the promise that Coke helps relieve school stress. The company targeted Rutgers with the promise that Coca-Cola will help relieve its financial stress: it will pay the university millions in exchange for a monopoly on soda sales to its thirsty student body.

“I feel like it’s beneficial towards Rutgers to make money from us, you know what I mean?” said freshman Andrew Peltuszyn. So he doesn’t mind being offered up to Coke as a market? “Yeah, I don’t mind. I’m cool with it,” he said.

“Business is business. Whatever Rutgers has got to do to make money. Hopefully they’ll put it in some buildings or dorms and make it better for us,” said freshman Frankely Rosario.

Rutgers sold its first soda monopoly to Coke in 1994, then switched to Pepsi as the cola companies battled for lucrative campus franchises nationwide. Rutgers hasn’t released details of this latest deal, but Coke apparently made such a sweet offer, the university dumped Pepsi — which paid the university $17 million over the past decade. But, wait. Didn’t Rutgers just merge with a medical school?

“I think they really dropped the ball on this. I’m kind of disappointed that they did. The institution’s led by doctors,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale.

The Rutgers/Coke deal leaves a bad taste in Vitale’s mouth. He thinks university vending machines should promote healthier items.

“Now they’re fully committed to population health and this really runs counter to that. So I think they should provide some leadership in this area. Not to say that you can’t offer sugary drinks, but it shouldn’t be the dominant product,” he said.

Vitale admits universities strike corporate bargains for money all the time, like Rutgers letting High Point brand its football stadium. And Coke money comes with no real strings attached.

“It could be used for scholarships, it could be used for commencement speakers, it could be used to pay for tires for the buses. They could dedicate that money for prevention, for good public health,” Vitale said.

“Universities need not to make deals with companies whose profit is going to cause major problems for their students,” said Beverly Waithe.

Waithe teaches healthy diets at Saint Peter’s. She says universities will make up-front money, but the nation will eventually pay a lot more to treat obesity, diabetes and heart disease that results from sugary drinks.

“At night, the vending machine is there — let me get a couple of sodas. You’re making it too easy,” she said.

Neither Rutgers nor Coke would comment on the new contract, but Coke did say it will offer Rutgers 150 low- and no-calorie beverage options.

Vitale suggested that, instead of pouring all of its Coke money into just general revenues, that Rutgers instead spend some of its soft drink slush fund on more health-oriented budget items.